Snappiest way to jump into the era is via the atmosphere of aural cues. And it's done as soon as the first brass instrument trills from the stage. Not sure if it's the affectation or really the dialogue, but when everyone's speaking in a 1920s twang the mood is set.
Ladies and gentlemen, presenting to you a string of songs you've no doubt heard before because of movie adaptation featuring Nurse Betty, The Woman from The Mask of Zorro and The John from Pretty Woman. Song after song, the playlist does little in the way of any pretense between transitions. It's upfront, in your ear and really works into the flow. Chicago is a musical version of a concept album, a theme and story running straight down its core.
It's the typical tale of making celebrities out of those holding the bloody knife, gun or taught garrote as they mood about in the courtroom. Sensational then as it is humdrum and way too common now. It's delicious fodder for the newspapers and reporters chasing down the big drama of it all.
Anne Horak and Terra C. MacLeod hold down the show effortlessly as Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly respectively. The heavy lifting ably in the arms and voice of Horak. John O'Hurley is all sorts of splendid velvet as he drops charm bombs all over the stage as the slick lawyer, Billy Flynn. Really, the money is all in the machinations between Roxie and Flynn as they craft the kind of story that would sell papers, draw in hearts and make a lot of song. And do they ever. Conniving, ruthless schemers, it's the kind of emotional beats that makes you really root for them.
Velma has more of that moll twang than Roxie, whose sound leans more toward the new coming of the 1930s. Their sparring feeds into a big sister, little sister type dynamic. Todd Buonopane really makes you feel for the schlub when he rings into Amos' "Mister Cellophane" anthem and his slumped shoulders traipse across the stage. Poor bloke. "All That Jazz", "Cell Block Tango" and "Razzle Dazzle" are the strong familiar hits with "All I Care About" serving up hot right on another point.
Everyone gets a single costume and runs with it the whole show. Which means those doing double duty as person on the street, journalist or some court official look just like they walked out of a nightclub. All fine, but then there's the trial jury. A one man representation of six of Roxie's peers. The old lady, the pervert, the wizened old man smoking a pipe the size of a untended cyst, to name but a few caricatures. It's rapid, chaotic and fun to watch.
Music is a major player in this. The band is literally centre stage, instead of down in the belly of the floor. The conductor, Jack Gaughan, plays silent straight man as the cast riffs and bounces off of his presence. At times it's not clear if it's part of the book or right off the cuff. It's got a natural slide to it as they talk to him and show off props. The jibes and snaps are snappy and jibey indeed and sing another note on the witty writing and chemistry.
Chicago is a musical with a story soundtrack, of growing into darker areas of the mind and belting out wonderful, catchy tunes as it takes you into the alley and cashes in your corpse for a little crack of fame.
Two and a half hours with intermission and watering eyeballs from the cold-warm-cold thermostat setting at the matinee performance on 9 November 2013 at the Lexington Opera House.
Reviewed on Wednesday, 13 November 2013